He’s one of those who came of age during the Great Depression and served in the U.S. Army during World War II in the Philippines. Buren Smith of Macedonia in Cleburne County definitely qualifies as a member of the prestigious "Greatest Generation."
Smith and his wife Ellen got married and rented 65 acres for three years when he was drafted into the army.
"I paid that land off in three years plowing behind a mule before I was drafted," Smith said. "I was serving in the Philippines when they dropped the ‘A’ bombs on Japan."
Smith was fortunate to get electricity as early as he did in the 1940s.
"While I was overseas, the power company was coming through with lines and poles, and you had to sign and notarize an agreement," Smith recalled. "They mailed the form to me overseas, and I thought I would never find a notary until an officer told me he could notarize it."
After returning from the war, Smith and his wife ran a small dairy and farmed to make a living. Smith is now 92 years old and his wife passed away eight years ago, but, when you mention Border Collies, a fire lights in his eyes and he shows true passion as he talks about his dogs like they are old friends.
"I started working Border Collies in the 1970s," Smith explained. "I saw a man working his dairy cattle with a Border Collie, and I started a search for one of the dogs that lasted two years."
Smith eventually bought a Border Collie for $50 from Woodrow Wilson (not the former president, but a local mercantile owner who lived near Smith).
"Do you want to know who owned that dog before Woodrow?" Smith asked. "Fred Howle, your grandfather, was the first owner."
I was surprised at Smith’s response, but I remembered a fine cattle dog named Kate my grandfather used to own on his own farm.
Smith had that first Border Collie Kate bred to a male from Atlanta, and he began raising and training Border Collies to help him gather up and turn out the dairy cattle he had to milk every day.
Smith began to get pretty good at training Border Collies on his dairy farm, and he then moved on to training them for field trials.
"Over the years, I have competed across Alabama and Georgia," Smith said. "I never won first place in the top class, but I’ve won several first place awards in the lower classes which use younger dogs."
During Border Collie trials, the object is to work three sheep with your dogs. You work inside a 60-foot circle and you have to cut one sheep out of the group.
"You know, the last thing a sheep wants to do is to be separated from the group," Smith stated. "Once the bug bites you to compete with these dogs, you’re bitten good."
Smith’s favorite dog was named King. However, he doesn’t mention that fact around his current dogs.
"I ran between 25 and 30 cows, and King would go down to the pasture and pick the cows out one by one to be milked," Smith remembered. "As soon as the milking of that cow was done, King would be ready to run her out of the barn and back into the pasture before she would mess up the barn with manure."
When he and Ellen married, his wife didn’t like dogs.
"Once I got King, she changed her mind about dogs," Smith said. "That dog was a big help to Ellen also."
Smith remembers his wife and dog with fondness on one particular story.
"One time, me and my Daddy were cutting timber down in the woods," Smith recalled. "King kept running around me and I knew he wasn’t supposed to be out of the pen. I noticed he had something hanging around his neck, and when I looked, it was a note from Ellen that said, ‘There’s a fellow waiting here at the house to see you.’"
Smith said Ellen was busy with household chores and didn’t have time to go to the woods hunting for him. Instead, she sent the message by the most dependable source.
Smith now has four Border Collies: Jake, Jan, Bonnie and Sue. He told Jake to wait on the stump while he opened the gate. The dog immediately jumped on the stump and balanced waiting for Smith’s next command.
Smith then flung the pasture gate open and started walking toward the house. He turned around and said, "Jake, you know not to leave that gate open."
To my surprise, the dog then jumped off the stump and ran toward the gate. The dog then stood on his back legs and pulled the gate shut with his front legs and held it there waiting for Smith.
Out in the pasture, Smith demonstrated the skills of one of his younger dogs. Bonnie, after receiving commands from Smith with a whistle and voice commands, ran to the low end of the pasture, gathered up about 20 head of sheep and herded them to the exact spot Smith directed.
"If you want to work two dogs, you have to give two separate commands or they will run into each other," Smith explained. "I once saw a fellow work four dogs with four different commands."
Buren Smith is a remarkable Alabamian and a selfless American. Growing up during the Depression, fighting in a World War, and raising a family on fluctuating dairy and cattle prices have never dampened his positive attitude, and, if you are ever in Macedonia, stop in and say hello. It won’t take long for him to tell you about his dogs or give you a show.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.